Board games may not immediately come to your mind when thinking of activities for passing the time on weekends or unwinding after class. For most, they are a relic of the past, a holiday break spent with family competing over who gets bragging rights for winning the seven-hour game of “Monopoly.”
However, board games have seen a recent upswing in popularity among younger generations, especially college students and young adults. Many students at Binghamton University regularly host board game nights at their off-campus residences on the weekends, and gaming cafes such as The Uncommons have started to pop up in major cities, including New York City.
Dylan Eliassof, a junior majoring in biology, said one possible reason for this shift is that board games can provide a social aspect in addition to entertainment for many millennials and the Generation Z population.
“I had been playing board games since I was a kid with my family,” Eliassof said. “We played ‘Parcheesi’ a lot … More recently, I would say late high school and early college, my friend introduced me to the ‘One Night [Ultimate]’ series which is structured like the game ‘Mafia,’ which is a board game but [also] a social game. That definitely caused me to start playing a lot more board games, and looking up different ones to play.”
Eliassof, whose recent favorite games have been “Uno” and “One Night Ultimate Werewolf,” said board games can bring a sense of community to people who may not be close at the start of the night.
“I love the connection it brings to the people you’re playing with,” he said. “It definitely breaks the ice if you’re playing with new people. [I]t’s just very fun to see how other people play board games because I think it tells a lot about a person. It’s a really good transition to get people to know each other.”
In college, where drinking culture is rampant, board games can also serve as a social alternative to going out. Beck Gore, a junior majoring in human development, said board games add options for those who are more comfortable sober.
“Something that I actually think is really cool is that it’s kind of providing a venue for people to hang out in a space that can be entirely sober if they need,” she said. “In [BU], I feel like there’s a big issue where most of the activities that people want to do are typically at bars, and so if you’re someone that’s trying to get sober, trying to not be around that kind of atmosphere, board games are a really good way to just have that good time with your friends but not worry about it depending on a substance, or being around a substance.”
In addition to giving young people something fun to do in their free time, the low price point of board games is a large part of their allure. Many students or young adults who have just left school want a new experience but may not have the financial means to do anything extravagant. Gore, whose favorite board game is “Betrayal at House on the Hill,” described board games as affordable, accessible and reusable in comparison to other popular forms of entertainment, such as video games and streaming services.
“A lot of video games and things, which are still incredibly popular, [are] just a big investment you have to make in both the system and collecting all of these different games,” she said. “Whereas with a board game, you don’t need anything but the board game, and you can carry that with you and bring that experience anywhere and be able to play anywhere, instead of needing all the specific bits and pieces to pull everything together. Depending on the group you’re with, depending on how many people you’re playing with, it’s going to be a different context every time, which is also part of the excitement.”
One game in particular that has made a resurgence among younger generations is “Catan,” a German multiplayer board game first designed by Klaus Teuber 25 years ago. Shuya Ishizuka, a sophomore majoring in sociology, said“Catan” is not only his favorite game, but an ideal board game.
“It’s the perfect amount of time — it’s like an hour and a half — you can play with up to [four] people,” he said. “It’s a lot of strategy that’s involved in it, there’s a lot of different ways you can win. It’s really competitive.”
Despite the perks of playing board games as a hobby, seasoned players have also experienced the challenges that come with more intense games. Gore said long-form games can be especially difficult to finish and take substantial time and effort to set up and play.
“One of the main things, especially with long-form games, is trying to find a period of time to be able to play in,” she said. “With the game ‘Betrayal [at House on the Hill],’ it’s a game that can either take an hour and a half, or three hours. Depending on that, we’ve had to call off games halfway through. Same with ‘[Dungeons & Dragons]’ sessions where it takes too much time.”
Overall, board games can be a great way to change up your Friday night plans and bring people together.
“Everyone should try it out,” Ishizuka said. “It’s a great way to interact with people. It can also be therapeutic.”
Gore agreed, adding that board games are about more than just the players themselves.
“I feel like board game culture is just another way to be able to support creativity and different kinds of artists and venues for people to express themselves,” she said. “So when you can see that there is an artist that actively put a lot of care and passion into a board game, getting to support them in that way is so wonderful. I really do feel like board games can be for any person — you just need to find a game that you are interested in.”